Archive for May 14th, 2007

Terra Branford.

Warning: spoilers. Considering I'm mostly talking about games which have been out for about a decade or so, I doubt I need to spoiler-cut these. (Don't worry, I won't spoil anything past FF8.)

They say that the first Final Fantasy game you play will be your favourite.

"They", in this case, meaning that inevitable comment when a discussion about the FF series turns into whichever is one's favourite. Invariably someone proves it wrong, just as generalizations are easily disputed with a single exception. However, I am not that exception, because even though the first FF game I played significantly (and completed) was the Super Nintendo US version of Final Fantasy 4 (then marketed as Final Fantasy 2 in the US), before that, my actual first FF experience was Final Fantasy 6, then marketed in the US as Final Fantasy 3. And even though I did not get past the very beginning of the Narshe Mines on my first play-through (being that I was distracted by Super Mario World, and kind of set it aside until I couldn't find the game), when I went back to play it and play it consistently, it rocketed up my list and ended up as number one.

Since then, I've played every other (numbered) FF game from the Playstation era, plus Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy 5 on emulator, and I'm currently working slowly through Final Fantasy 3 (the actual one) on my DS Lite, on and I still place FF6 as my top spot for FF games. I'm not sure if this is due entirely to nostalgia or if I can actually ennumerate the reasons for my love if only I had the necessary vocabulary.

If you're wondering, the ranking for the others go something like: 8 (putting aside the horrible battle system, the presentation of the story, if not the story itself, was worth quite a lot), X (all-around good, and I don't mind being railroaded), 7 (hey, Sephiroth is badass, and I loved Aerith), 4 (this may change when I check out the "better" translation job, but the story felt fairly bland, and with the exception of Cecil and Rydia, I didn't care about the characters that much), 9 (I didn't even finish it, mostly due to the presence of odd graphical artifacts when playing on my PS2 that made gameplay painful), 5 (the story didn't really grab me, and I hated having to grind to level jobs), and not counting 3 (which I'm still playing), X-2 (which was a series of minigames pasted together with the remnants of a plot).

(I'm not counting Final Fantasy XI. In fact, considering I loathed it, it's probably a good idea not to count it.)

But again, FF6 feels leaps and bounds ahead of everything else. I'm not sure why, or rather I'm not sure how to explain why. I could say that it's nostalgia: when I played through FF6, it was technically my first FF played, and my second really played and completed, and I had not seen anything like it before. It could be the story: I don't think I can really justify this to any objective degree, and this is both a case of personal inability to come up with suitable words, as well as the fact that it's really entirely subjective. It could be the characters: almost every (playable) character has a sidequest or backstory that makes up a large part of who they are, with the exception of Umaro and Gogo (and possibly Strago), who are, perhaps not coincidentally, my least favourite characters in the game. (Well, Gogo is great mechanics-wise, but story-wise… eh.)

And then there's Kefka. I'm a bit worried about the re-translations from Ted Woosley's rather LEGENDARY script, mostly because we have all the classic memorable lines that probably aren't very faithful to the original ("'Wait,' he says… do I look like a waiter?"). We first see Kefka as being a bit psychotic (and yes, I realize how silly that sounds), and it's not until the middle of the game (at the end of the World of Balance) that we realize just how insane he is, and the end of the game when his final motivations are revealed. It's no big surprise, but when you remember that this is the guy who complained about sand on his boots and then set fire to an allied castle, and then later poisoned an entire city, you realize that not only were the signs there all along, the scope of his madness remained a surprise thanks to prior expectations: "Surely he wouldn't be so crazy as to do that, right? … right?"

Also, "Dancing Mad" is the Best Final Battle Music Ever. It's not as (Internet) radio-friendly as "One-Winged Angel", but the first and last movements of that piece are just awesome. (If you can, grab the Black Mages version. The rock guitar at about 8:40 or so brings so many memories of desperately healing against Fallen One.) Kefka's leitmotif is all over that piece.

Sephiroth is more photogenic, and I certainly do not begrudge him his appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series, if only because it works better for him as an opponent rather than the Giger-esque final battle form of Kefka, but dammit, Kefka makes the cliche of being insanely evil work. I suppose it helps that we see him from the very beginning of the game with his personality not really changing that much, compared to the "wait, where'd they come from?" of FF4's Zeromus, FF5's Exdeath, and FF8's Ultimecia. (Also, the "wait, that's the real villain!" point comes at the end of the World of Balance, which is either close to the end of the game, or in the middle, depending on how much time you want to spend in the World of Ruin collecting your party members.)

And at the very end, during the ending sequence, when they show a montage of the characters escaping from the collapsing Floating Continent along with items which represent them on a sepia tone while their leitmotifs play, I am reminded once again: these are the characters whose stories are told in the game. They are the ones who have been through just about everything the plot has thrown at them, and they have come out of it with a better understanding of themselves and each other. From Terra's acceptance of her Esper half, to the brotherly love between Edgar and Sabin, to Setzer coming to terms with Daryl's disappearance, to Locke finally finding closure with Rachel and a new beginning with Celes, to Shadow's acceptance of his betrayal of Baram… these are the characters whom I, as a player, can actually feel proud for knowing.

The famous opera scene is not the highlight of the game; it's an example, among so many others.

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